Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.

CARTER, Charles Rooking

(1822–96).

Contractor, politician, and philanthropist.

A new biography of Carter, Charles Rooking appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

Charles Rooking Carter was born in Kendal, Westmorland, on 10 March 1822, the son of John Carter, builder. When the family fortunes declined after the death of his father in 1837 Carter tried various occupations, but eventually apprenticed himself to a builder. From the age of 17 he was a strong sympathiser with the Chartist movement and his early life was marked by an urge for study and self improvement. Residence in London from the age of 21 gave him opportunity both to develop his skills and, through adult education classes at the Westminster Institution, to continue broadening his knowledge and outlook. He took a leading part in the successful movement to shorten the hours of Saturday labour and wrote extensively in periodicals on labour conditions and the economic conditions of the working class. He gave qualified support to the revolutionary events of 1848 and in that April visited Paris and attended meetings of working-class delegations in the Luxembourg Palace.

His studies led him to advocate emigration and, in particular, emigration to New Zealand, as one means of relieving distress. Following his marriage to Jane Robieson in 1850, he left for New Zealand with his wife later in the year. In Wellington he quickly made a position for himself as a resourceful and enterprising contractor, among the works which he completed being harbour reclamation, sea walls, and the Wellington Provincial Buildings (1857).

When in England Carter had studied New Zealand prospects sufficiently closely to have become aware of the attractions of the Wairarapa for settlement. In 1853 he was elected to the committee of the Wairarapa Small Farms Association, an organisation responsible for the settlement of Greytown and Masterton. By a complex series of events he later became the sole trustee of the association and reported on its affairs to the original settlers and members in 1860. In 1867 his suggestion that the unsold lands should be used for educational purposes within the district led directly to the establishment of the Greytown and Masterton land trusts. Carter represented the Wairarapa both in the Wellington Provincial Council (1857–64) and in the General Assembly (1859–65). It was his work for the district and the knowledge which the Three Mile Bush settlers had gained from him while he was building the first Waiohine bridge which led to their recommending that the settlement be named in his honour “Carterville” (Carterton).

Carter's business success and wanderlust permitted his early return to England in 1863 for a four-year interval and again for most of the latter part of his life. Between 1857 and 1863, by a series of purchases of small holdings, he had formed the East Taratahi or Parkvale estate which, however, was inadequately developed during his ownership. While overseas he kept in touch with Carterton, and his direct assistance to the borough library made it, by the middle 1880s, probably the best in the country outside the main centres. Carter died at Wellington on 22 July 1896. He made several bequests to the town during his life and left £2,500 for the establishment of the Carter Home for “aged poor men”. His bequests, including a significant book and pamphlet collection to the New Zealand Institute and the residue of his estate for the erection of an astronomical observatory for Wellington, were noteworthy.

Although prolix and even tedious in literary style and unpolished in address, Carter by energy and shrewdness gained a modest success which he was prepared to share in part with the general community – in all probability due to the promptings of his early Chartist theories.

by Austin Graham Bagnall, M.A., A.L.A., Librarian, National Library Centre, Wellington.

  • Life and Recollections of a New Zealand Colonist, Carter, C. R., et al. (3 vols., 1866–75)
  • A History of Carterton, Bagnall, A. G. (1957).


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This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

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